Technology Coming & Going & Coming…

Brian Coppa’s recent blog about silicon-carbide (SiC) usage, SiC Power Inversion Chips for PV & EVs, brought to mind the cyclic nature of technology that has come and gone and come back. Here are a few examples.

Electric cars: The electric car has come and gone numerous times over the years. A quick search shows that they initially came out in 1834 in Europe. There was a revival in 1895 in Iowa, followed by a few models in the early 20th century. Through most of the rest of the 20th century, not much work was done except for some highly specialized vehicles.

One of the most highly specialized was the lunar rover, put on the moon as an electric vehicle (ca. 1970, multiple moon missions). Then, back on Earth, we had the big push from the late 1990s to the present. With each new revival, improvements were added using the latest technology. The current push is now using modern electronics that range from battery equalizing charging circuits to SiC transistors and diodes to improve the efficiencies. The biggest challenge for electric cars is just the energy storage capacity and recharge times — gasoline still contains the highest energy density, and it refills the tank in a few minutes. I still expect to see electric car improvements.

Tablet PCs: Tablet PCs first came out back around 2002. I remember the Compaq flip-tablet for the notebook computer. The technology for the processing power was not that good, and the tablet PC died around 2005. But now, with newer processor performance, tablet PCs are on the rise, and there is talk about the traditional desktop computer (and perhaps the notebook) dying.

Solar power for electricity generation: Solar power has had its commercial death cycle, primarily due to the low efficiency and cost factors of the photo-voltaic arrays (PVAs). With the space program pushing for better performance in its downtime, the newer technology with better silicon processing has raised the PVA efficiency to a point to make solar power a commercially viable product. Recent articles I've seen call out PVA efficiency in the mid 40 percent range, though with a high cost, as you would expect from space program-derived products. Compare this to today’s commercial-grade PVA efficiency in the upper teens.

Germanium transistors: These were quickly phased out and replaced by silicon. Yet now germanium is making a comeback as an additive for improved performance for both the LED and transistor markets. Advances in technology, manufacturing, and so forth, have put germanium back on track as being useful in semiconductor fabrication.

SiC: Here is another technology that has come back into the light. Again, the manufacturing improvements allowed this technology to excel, and people are finding use in high-speed, high-voltage, and high-temperature applications.

As time passes, the combining of technology from one field with that from another provides new leaps in product performance such as combining the newer PVAs with SiC-based inverters. This will result in more PV systems being installed on commercial facilities and homes.

Do not be concerned if a product dies when it first comes out. Sometimes, products are ahead of their time. With technological advances, products could come back with a price-performance ratio that would make them the next big thing. What products do you know of that fit this category?

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23 comments on “Technology Coming & Going & Coming…

  1. Scott Elder
    May 31, 2013

    How about the TV as the home computer?  Gateway Computer had this in play before streaming video was popular and before the quality of the screen could handle text.  The whole concept flipped 180–now the computer is the TV.

    I hesitate to touch the FPAA or metal programmed ICs or reconfigurable ICs topic again…but they've all been in and out for forty years now.

    ATT video phones before Skype.

    That's my shortlist.

  2. jkvasan
    May 31, 2013

    Sound only TV could fit this category partially

    Another technology which comes and goes could be FM only radio. In india, FM radio is now on available in satellite TVs and Mobile phones.

  3. David Maciel Silva
    May 31, 2013

    We had a technological advancement in the category Telecommunications very large,
    Apple launched an innovative mobile, with unique characteristics,. but what is relevant to the past?

    Because in the past was not so old mobile technology, some could not store any numbers.

    So what is there in common? The size of the phones are increasing, as in the beginning, they were huge lumbering seemed guns ….

    Soon we had a following phase miniaturized phones, and now everything back to the beginning, large with more technology? yes, but great ….

  4. eafpres
    May 31, 2013

    Satellite communications has ebbed and flowed.  For a while, it was relegated to niche applications for very expensive satellite phones and remote locatons.

    Now, it is reaching cost parity with other broadband sources, to the point that new satellites are on the way from ViaSat and EchoStar:

    New broadband satellites in the future

    Another technology area that has been up and down are batteries.  For a long time not much happened in batteries.  Then the “green” movement brought some reasonable rechargeable cells to the consumer market.  Now, the world is awash in battery technology development.

  5. Brad Albing
    May 31, 2013

    @Scott ATT video phones before Skype. Yep – the ATT videophone was way ahead of its time. George Burns even had video phone capability (albeit simplex) as a running gag on one of his early TV sitcoms. Comedic because it was so completely preposterous.

    Funny how uninterested people were at the time – and now practically can't live without it.

  6. Brad Albing
    May 31, 2013

    @Scott >>I hesitate to touch the FPAA or metal programmed ICs – Yep – probably beat that up enough for now. Wait a couple weeks and we'll blog about it some more.

  7. Brad Albing
    May 31, 2013

    @eafpres >>new satellites are on the way from ViaSat and EchoStar – Cool – I finally will get my own full duplex satellite channel.

  8. Brad Albing
    May 31, 2013

    @JK – are you saying that FM radio receivers are just an “add-on” to more sophisticated devices like mobile phones, etc.? Interesting turn of events.

  9. SunitaT
    May 31, 2013

    The whole concept flipped 180–now the computer is the TV.

    @Scott, very true. Earlier TV content was uploaded on the internet but these days internet companies are trying to product television content to attract more viewers to their channels. I think once the mobile projector becomes popular then users will start watching TV on mobiles.

  10. SunitaT
    May 31, 2013

    The size of the phones are increasing, as in the beginning, they were huge lumbering seemed guns

    @Maciel, I totally agree with you. Earlier people liked small sized phones because it was easy to carry around. Now the trend has changed and they want bigger screen mobiles because its easy to watch multimedia content on bigger screen. Pretty soon we will these mobile devices embedded in belts, watches etc.

  11. PCR
    June 2, 2013

    Great article Derek, Tablet PCs, I believe that each and every times when it comes to computers performance will count fist in the line. 

  12. PCR
    June 2, 2013

    Very true Jayaraman, now the FM radio is popularize in advertising also than ever. And also number of radio channels is also increasing due to potential of the market.

  13. jkvasan
    June 2, 2013


    Nowadays almost every mobile phone in India has a FM radio receiver. Uses earphones as antenna. You can record audio and convert into mp3s for offline playing later.

  14. Dirceu
    June 2, 2013

         At the end of the century before the last, the dispute between the genius of Thomas Alva Edison and Nikola Tesla, regarding the best way to transmit and distribute electricity, culminating in the victory of the latter. Who has not heard about the famous elephant Topsy? Alternating current (AC) worked fine when consumer equipment were suitable for this type of current. Nowadays, with the predominance of DC loads (I have more than a dozen wall adapters at home) there is a great demand for direct current (DC). In the beginning of that dispute, practically the only known way to raise a voltage was using a transformer (invented by William Stanley). Large voltages were required, because only so the current could be smaller (and therefore smaller IR losses and thinner cables) when transmitting over long distances. With advances in power electronics (switched converters), today's technology allows to change voltage levels in a cheap, lightweight and efficient manner. Now the advantages of direct current are most evident. Several countries have adopted DC for  electric power transmission (HVDC) and distribution. Back to Edison?

  15. jkvasan
    June 3, 2013


    Agreed, HVDC transmission is gaining ground in several applications including the undersea cables.

    However, DC conversion can still be a problem.

  16. eafpres
    June 3, 2013

    @JAYARAMAN KIRUTHI VASAN:  Nokia has technology with an active circuit that allows good FM reception in a cell phone with an internal antenna.  So you can use the phone like a radio–headphones or not.  Have you noticed any models like that?

  17. eafpres
    June 3, 2013

    There are a few HVDC lines in the US and North America, and more in South America.  As an example, ABB has been a leader in developing technology like circuit breakers etc. which are needed in sub-stations from transmission to distribution.  I found this site which shows the lines in North America today:

    History of HVDC Transmission

  18. bjcoppa
    June 3, 2013

    Nice overview of technology trends over the years. I am always amazed on how dismissive tech professionals can be on the fate of past and emerging technology amid the uncertainty of future roadmaps. Never rule out a material too soon as it may come back to haunt you!

  19. jkvasan
    June 3, 2013

    eafpres Even my wife's Lumia800 needs Hands free wires for Fm radio. Do you know any specific models having such facility? The latest technology Nokia has been boasting off seems to be the wireless charging.

  20. eafpres
    June 4, 2013

    Here are some models I think have it:

    Nokia 600

    Nokia X2-O2


  21. Brad Albing
    June 4, 2013

    @eafpres – Speaking of high-voltage power line disconnects:

  22. yalanand
    January 31, 2014

    The latest technology Nokia has been boasting off seems to be the wireless charging. 

    @JAYARAMAN, true Nokia has provided wireless charging facility. Nokia Lumia 920 has wireless charging built-in. And you can charge Nokia Lumia 820 wirelessly by adding on awireless charging shell .

  23. yalanand
    January 31, 2014

    And also number of radio channels is also increasing due to potential of the market.

    @Ranasinghe, I totally agree with you. Demand for FM radio is increasing. I think people also like to listen Digital radios which can be accessed using Apps.

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